High schools typically use the same football as they do at the college and professional level. In some cases, a school or league may choose to use a slightly smaller ball for younger players whose hands aren’t big enough yet to grip the largest size. But in general, high schools use a football that’s 11 inches long, 21 inches in diameter, and 7 inches tall. The biggest difference is most high school footballs have 12 cross-stitches instead of 8.
Before my freshman year of high school, I started throwing with this bigger football to prepare for the new season. The first week or so was brutal as I tried to re-train my hand to grip a ball that was half an inch taller and had a wider circumference. I didn’t think this was going to be a problem, but I’m glad I didn’t wait until the first day of official practice to try.
While most high schoolers are playing with the same football as Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, there can be some subtle differences that can alter how a ball is gripped and thrown. We’ll examine some of these differences and similarities below.
- High schools tend to use footballs with the same dimensions as colleges and the NFL
- NFL footballs tend to be made of a higher-quality material such as leather instead of a synthetic material like rubber
- Many high school balls do have more cross-stitches which makes it easier for the quarterback to grip and throw
Sizes May Vary
Technically, high school, college, and professional football leagues use footballs with the same dimension. These footballs measure eleven inches long from nose to nose with a circumference of 21 inches at the widest point and 7 inches tall.
Unlike the NCAA or the NFL however, the size of the football is not completely standardized at the high school level. High school is the first level to use the official-size football for most competitions, moving up from the youth sized football that is shorter and has a smaller circumference. This allows smaller players to grip the ball more effectively and manage longer and more accurate passes. 
Some high school teams, specifically those below the Varsity level with younger players, may still use one of these smaller, intermediate footballs in games. 
The stakes aren’t as big and with a focus on recreation and development taking priority over competition, using a football that is more appropriate for players that are still growing is appropriate. 
Differences in Material Between Levels
Footballs used at a higher level tend to be made of a higher-quality material with a leather exterior that is more durable and receives high praise from professional athletes. The biggest difference however is for quarterbacks. The laces and cross stitches they use to grip and throw the ball have some big differences between the high school and college levels.
“The biggest transition for me was going from the college ball to the NFL ball.” quarterback Matt Ryan told ESPN.com. “The laces are different in college; that ball has, like, rubber-molded laces, so your hand has to be further out on the ball. The NFL ball has, like, real old-school laces. I love throwing the NFL ball.” 
High school balls also have more cross-stitches, the laces that run horizontally across the top of the ball. High school footballs have 12 cross-stitches compared to just 8 for professional football players. Having more cross-stitches makes it easier to find a good grip, a necessity for less skilled players. 
Stepping up to the regulation-sized football is a big step for young football players. The dimensions may not be a big difference, but I remember it taking a few months to adjust to this bigger-sized football. Having never played with fewer than twelve laces, I can’t imagine how poor my already suspect arm strength would have been if I’d been forced to fumble around even more for a good grip.
Do you notice a big difference in the dimensions between the youth and professional levels? What’s your preferred type for your backyard games? Let us know in the comments below.